Vive la différence!

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Cross-section of male and female brain differences

Recently I heard from the editor at the Buddhist publisher where my book is under consideration. She was very enthusiastic, but wanted to see more focus on women’s experience and how the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness address women’s particular issues. Because, after all, the book is titled A Woman’s Guide to Awakening.

I absolutely agree with her. So to help me dive in a little deeper, I did some research and found an article in Psychology Today that says there are over 100 ways men and women are different. The author, Gregory L. Jantz Ph.D., focused on four main areas of brain function: processing, chemistry, structure, and blood flow/activity.

These difference are crucial for any meditation teacher to know because they affect how the two genders practice meditation. Jantz says that male brains use nearly seven times more gray matter while female brains use nearly ten times more white matter. The gray matter activity enables the average male to focus on something very intently. The white matter activity enables the average female to network. Hmm, that makes a lot of sense!

Other differences that may affect meditation practice: Because of differences in chemical composition, men are generally less able to sit still for long periods. Because of more neural density in a larger hippocampus, women are more sensate, more able to feel and describe the feelings through all their senses.

So the average male may be able to take the instruction ‘follow the breath’ and really focus on that breath, but may get restless and need to move. The average female may have a harder time with the single-focus, but is more able to be aware of all sensory activity going on in the present moment, and to describe that activity.

These differences are important! It helps us to understand why we women may struggle with a single-focus practice and allows us to accept that the multi-sense-focus is perfectly fine. Knowing that there are these and many other differences lets us understand that much as we might want them to, men will never be like us, and that is okay! Viva la difference.

While we are fortunate to have many women meditation teachers and authors, when it comes to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, so far it has been explored by male teachers who provide information for the general Buddhist scholar, but by nature continue as the Buddha did to look at it from a male perspective. Totally fine, but why not have  something a little more personalized to our own experience as women? It is not my intention in the book to make a big deal about the differences, only to make a book that women can relate to and learn from in a way that is useful.

If you have any thoughts that might be useful to share on this subject, please comment below. Thank you! — Stephanie


  1. Thanks Marleen! I'm glad the science is getting so exacting. I just read that 20% of women who come to the emergency room with heart attacks go undiagnosed because the enzyme test is geared toward men. While this has nothing to do with meditation, it has a lot to do with the importance of learning, understanding and acknowledging the differences that are crucial for our well being.


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